Before there was RuPaul and her many acolytes – including the likes of Sharon Needles, Alaska Thunderfuck, Latrice Royale and Sasha Velour – there was Flawless Sabrina, known to some as Jack Doroshow. Somewhat poetically, Sabrina’s cause of death, as described by her family, was a failure to thrive. And, in many ways, Doroshow did fail at thriving (as much as others do now) in an industry that was practically nonexistent upon her first organized show in 1959. As a trailblazer, Sabrina helped many queens and young people find their voice. Notoriously “not picky” about pronouns, she also inhabited a space that was seen as confusing and polarizing in the years before the terms “genderfluid” and “nonbinary” came to prominence.
Contending with oppressors ranging from the “morally upright” to the fuzz, Flawless Sabrina put on many a ragtag revue in avoidance of condemnation and arrest. One of the major drag shows – in those early days called “pageants” – she spearheaded in 1967 at Town Hall in New York City served as the material that would become “The Queen” (sorry, Stephen Frears,) selected to participate in the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, and became a major trailblazing force in publicizing the LGBTQ+ community.
Tracing Philadelphia native Sabrina’s initial exposure to the culture of drag begins at the Sloane House YMCA, where two queens from Pittsburgh also staying there invited her and her friends to check out their show. And with that five-dollar purchase for the price of admission, Doroshow’s fate as Flawless Sabrina would soon become clear.
More than her passion for the art and fanfare was the sudden realization, looking around herself at a room full of people who had paid five dollars to get in, that this was an untapped business market, and she just might have a shot at being one of the first to cash in on it.
Diana Tourjée, a writer for VICE who was helping Sabrina assemble her archive at the time of her death, commented of Sabrina’s polarizing presence in the world of drag, “What he always told me was that although he did well during the first pageant, the queens didn’t really like him because he was an outsider; he was a man in a suit who was just coming in and profiting off them.”
Hence, the performer Jack Doroshow had to become one of them as Flawless Sabrina in order to prove his adage, “You have to commit to yourself before other people will commit to you.” And though Sabrina’s last “pageant” was in 1969 on Fire Island, Doroshow remained forever a force for positivity among the court of queens – even if the light was dark on his stage presence. Perhaps it was as he said, “If it doesn’t make you nervous, it ain’t worth doing” – ergo that final decision to go into an early retirement that RuPaul would never dream of. Upon her death at seventy-eight, Flawless Sabrina remains the true grandfather and grandmother of pageantry.